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Actress Sylvia Sidney born

August 8, 1910

Actress Sylvia Sidney was born Sophia Kosow on August 8, 1910. After her parents' divorce, she was adopted by her stepfather and took his last name. Raised in New York City, Sidney studied at the Theatre Guild School in Manhattan and debuted on Broadway in The Squall at age sixteen. She soon attracted interest from Hollywood and made her first film, Thru Different Eyes, in 1929. After a return to Broadway, she signed a contract with Paramount Pictures. At Paramount, she starred in City Streets (1931) under the direction of Rouben Mamoulian. That film, along with a role in the film version of Theodore Dreiser's American Tragedy the same year, brought Sidney to stardom.

Over the next decade, the actress starred opposite such film icons as Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, James Cagney, Henry Fonda, and Spencer Tracy. In most of her films, Sidney was cast as an anguished heroine, a wistful sufferer of injustice. Her working-class urban heroines endeared her to audiences, despite her own distaste for being typecast. Among her films from this period were Dead End (1937), You Only Live Once (1937), and Alfred Hitchcock's Sabotage (1936).

In 1956, Sidney left Hollywood and returned to Broadway. In the 1950s and 60s she appeared in Enter Laughing and as the title character in Auntie Mame, among other roles. She returned to film in 1973 in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams; she was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for that role. Moving back and forth among film, television, and stage roles, Sidney went on to act in Tennessee Williams's Vieux Carré on Broadway (1977), in the film Beetlejuice (1988), and as the grandmother of AIDS patients in the television movies An Early Frost (1985) and André's Mother (1990).

In addition to acting, Sidney was involved in AIDS research and, after the 1985 death of her son from ALS, in research and advocacy for Lou Gehrig's disease. In addition, she published two books about needlepoint, in 1968 and 1975. Sidney died of throat cancer in 1999.

Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 1251-1252; New York Times, August 16, 1931, July 2, 1999.

Sylvia Sidney in "The Wagons Roll at Night," 1941
Full image
Cropped screenshot of Sylvia Sidney from the trailer for the film The Wagons Roll at Night, 1941.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc./Wikimedia.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Actress Sylvia Sidney born." (Viewed on January 19, 2018) <>.


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